The rear-wheel-drive Cadillac CTS, now in its third and best generation, plays in a prestigious field, including the Jaguar XF, Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The Cadillac holds its own and then some. From its inception, the Cadillac CTS targeted the German sports sedans, and today it might handle better than any car in that class.
New for 2016: revised technology, an 8-speed automatic transmission, an updated V6 engine, and a new CTS-V (reviewed separately). The current-generation CTS was introduced as a 2014 model.
The standard engine is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 268 horsepower, an engine that’s nicely tuned but still a bit rougher than the same-size mill from BMW. The engine is big enough, because the base CTS isn’t a heavy car, tipping the scales at a neat 3616 pounds. It’s mated to a new 8-speed automatic transmission that’s in every model except the V8.
But it’s the 3.6-liter V6 that’s the bread-and-butter engine, a bigger and better fit for the CTS, especially with available all-wheel drive. The 3.6-liter is updated for 2016 to make 335 horsepower and 285 pound-feet of torque, and can propel the CTS from zero to 60 in less than six seconds.
Both V6 engines use stop-start technology to garner EPA approval.
There’s also a twin turbo version of that V6, called the Vsport, intended to compete with sports sedans like the Audi S6 and Lexus GS F Sport. It makes 420 horsepower and 430 pound-feet torque, uses rear-wheel drive (no AWD available), with paddle shifters for the 8-speed transmission. It’s fitted with 18-inch Pirelli tires (replacing 17-inch), bigger brakes, and a track mode.
Also new for 2016 is the revival of the humongous powerful CTS-V, featuring a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 that makes 640 horsepower.
Other changes for 2016 include Apple Car Play, Google Android Auto smartphone integration, and a 360-degree camera system.
The CTS scores well in crash tests, and offers 10 airbags, parking sensors, and a rearview camera as standard equipment. There’s that new 360-degree camera system, along with available collision alerts, adaptive cruise control, cross-traffic alerts, and lane-departure warnings.
Fuel economy for the CTS 2.0-liter is an EPA-estimated 25 miles per gallon Combined city and highway. The 3.6-liter V6 is rated 24 mpg, the twin-turbo V6 at 19 mpg, and the supercharged 6.2-liter V8 gets a 14 mpg rating.
The 2016 Cadillac CTS ($45,560) comes with rear-wheel drive and is available in Luxury ($51,285), Performance ($56,285), and Premium ($60,685) trim, all with the 2.0-liter engine.
All-wheel drive increases the price by $2000.
The CTS Vsport ($59,995) comes in standard and Premium ($69,995) trim.
Cadillac calls its design theme Art & Science, and the CTS is its best execution so far. We would say it looks like a Mercedes E-Class from the side, but the roofline and C pillar that slopes toward the trunk is better executed.
Elsewhere it’s unmistakably Cadillac, especially in the dark trapezoidal grille with vertical headlamps that blend into the fenders and visually lower the nose. The LED daytime running lamps add to the coolness, as much a signature as the Audi headlamps or Dodge taillamps.
It would not be going too far to call the CTS interior glamorous. The cabin is bathed in a soft and futuristic glow from two screens, a big 8-inch touchscreen and a 5.7-inch monitor between the gauges. On the higher models there’s a 12.3-inch panel that replaces the gauges. It’s more interesting than the Jaguar XF and more radical than the cool-touch German cabins.
Sewn upholstery on the centerstack combines with wood trim on the higher models, and two-tone choices are available. The front seats are highly adjustable and supremely comfortable and supportive. In the rear, there’s less room and seat support than with some of the other cars in the exclusive class, as well as less trunk space.
We’re not too crazy about the driver’s seat that vibrates to warn you of what it thinks is an upcoming lane departure. On one ride in the CTS it downright scared us, and every time it went off, it was a false alarm.
Cadillac’s CUE infotainment system rules the cabin, dramatically and fascinatingly, but not always efficiently. The haptic feedback is inconsistent, and the voice recognition fails half the time, often enough that we resorted to our smartphone for Google Maps for navigation. At least it’s an option, so it can be skipped. For 2016, CUE adds Google Android Auto and Apple Car Play smartphone integration.
It’s Cadillac quiet inside, thanks to a noise cancellation system, although the I4 can sometimes be gruff, and the V6 gets a real exhaust note pumped in through the Bose sound system.
The CTS is a poised car, and handles with finesse and a light touch, cutting sharply into the corners without imitating the BMW 5 Series or Mercedes E Class. It’s well balanced, with a weight distribution that’s nearly 50-50, and offers superb stability. With its longer wheelbase it’s more supple than the ATS, but it’s almost as agile.
The base 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder brings 295 pound-feet of torque to its 268 horsepower, and the torque comes on low and stays strong to 5500 rpm. The new 8-speed automatic improves on the former 6-speed.
Good as the 2.0 turbo is, we would choose the 3.6-liter V6, because it offers a lot more power (335 hp) for only a tiny cost in fuel efficiency. We got a lot of seat time in the V6 models with Magnetic Ride Control (MRC), using shock absorbers containing magnetically charged fluid that stiffens and softens in milliseconds, making the ride smooth as a … well, smooth as a Cadillac one moment and stiff as a sports car the next (when needed). We would call it a must-have upgrade, for track days in the twin-turbo V6 Vsport that brings 420 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque.
Handling upgrades to that model include a quicker steering ratio, as well as quicker throttle and shifting in its track mode, electronic limited-slip differential, and bigger front brakes. Its grip is fantastic on the 18-inch Pirelli tires. On the track, it blasts carousels and esses, with its piped-in sound track filling the cabin with downshift blips out of the paddle-shifting eight-speed. It’ll do zero to 60 in 4.6 seconds and hit 170 mph. That’s not as powerful as a BMW twin-turbo V8 550i, but the CTS is lighter, at 3616 pounds.
The Cadillac CTS is a winner. Beautiful styling, lovely cabin, and superb balance, handling and ride. Four engines to give you the power to suit your desires. The CUE infotainment system might be a dealbreaker, however.
Driving impressions by The Car Connection. Sam Moses contributed to this report.